Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Lawless (1950) - Film Locations

The Lawless (1950)

In something a little different today, I've gone beyond my Los Angeles borders to track down film locations in two Northern California towns seen in the 1950 Joseph Losey movie, The Lawless. Many of Losey's films analyzed different social issues and in The Lawless, the director shines a light on racism in a small California community. What shocked me when I first saw this film is how contemporary it feels sixty-one years later.

The friction is between the middle class whites that live in the fictional town of Santa Marta and the Mexican fruit pickers that live in the poorer neighboring community, Sleepy Hollow. Not all, but many of the residents in the white community look down at the Mexican immigrants, considering them lazy and troublesome. During one evening, some white teenagers decide to go to Sleepy Hollow for a night of dancing. At the dance, the white teenagers pick a fight and an all out brawl ensues, spiraling out of control. When one of the Latino boys accidentally hits a cop many people in the white community, without knowing all the facts, go on a hunt for the Mexican juvenile, much like the mob in the Fritz Lang film, Fury.

Macdonald Carey, a regular in many 'B' movies, plays Larry Wilder, a newspaper publisher who has left the city life to go live and work in a quieter small town similar to the one he fondly remembers growing up in.  Being new in town, Carey initially doesn't want to make any more waves in the community than there already are. When Carey realizes just how bad the anti-Mexican hatred is he decides to take action, using his newspaper to get out the facts and to be a voice of reason in the community.

Macdonald Carey outside The Union Square Building

Union Square Building, 151 Mill St, Grass Valley, Ca

Above and directly below are screenshots from the film showing Carey's newspaper office building compared with contemporary images of the location. In the film, this building was to be in the fictional town of Santa Marta, but this building is located at 151 Mill Street, in Grass Valley, California. What I think is interesting is that this building, built in 1864, really was a newspaper building according to the Nevada County Association of Realtors website.

Another view of Union Square Building from The Lawless

151 Mill Street, Grass Valley, Ca - Union Square Building

The next few screen comparisons show more locations moving down Mill Street in Grass Valley, going in the direction of the historic Del Oro Theatre. You will see the residents beginning to form a mob and then turning into a chase scene.

Mexicans driving down Mill Street through the white crowd.

Cars driving down Mill Street near the Del Oro Theatre.

The Del Oro Theatre in the background as seen in The Lawless.

Del Oro Theatre, 165 Mill Street, Grass Valley, Ca

According to Cinema Treasures, the Del Oro Theatre was built in 1942, making the theatre only about seven years old during the time The Lawless was being filmed.

The mob races past Casey's Restaurant in Grass Valley.

Casey's Restaurant is now a parking lot.

In the above scene, the crowd formed into a mob and began racing down Mill Street, chasing one of the Mexicans past Casey's restaurant at the intersection of Mill and Neal Streets. As you can see, Casey's Restaurant is now a parking lot.

In the next screenshot comparisons, what is supposed to still be Santa Marta was actually filmed in Marysville, California, about 30 miles away from Grass Valley where the other scenes were filmed.

5th Street at D Street, Marysville, Ca as seen in The Lawless

Looking down D Street at 5th Street, Marysville, Ca

In the screenshot above, if you look in the upper right corner, you can see the pointed circular peak of what was the Western Hotel. I was able to identify this building thanks to some historic images on the Historic Downtown Marysville website. You can check out this informative and interesting site by clicking here. The Historic Downtown Marysville site says this about the hotel:

"Opened on November 1, 1853, the five-star Western Hotel was built for $30,000 by R.J. Murray. It burned in May 1854,  June 1933, and August 1956 [just seven years after The Lawless was filmed]. The hotel had installed the first elevator, steam heaters, and electricity between Sacramento and Portland in 1911; thus, it kept the hotel ranked with its five-star rating. The hotel stood for 95 years and was demolished in 1956."

As you can see, the hotel is not the only building missing since the time of filming. Clearly some of the other buildings that once stood on D Street are now gone.

The next couple comparisons show the old Yuba County Court House in Marysville, which was located at the corner of 6th and D Streets. Like the hotel, the old Court House is no longer standing.

Yuba County Court House as seen in The Lawless.

6th & D Streets, Marysville, Ca - Former site of Court House.

In front of the Court House, looking down D Street.

Looking down D Street where the Court House once stood.

In the next scene comparison we see a park in the center of town that the mob passes through during the chase scene. This park was Cortez Square, located near where the Court House used to stand. The park was situated between B and C Street and 5th and 6th Street. Like the Court House, Cortez Square is also gone.

Cortez Square, Marysville, Ca as seen in The Lawless.

Cortez Sqaure now covered by buildings.

This last comparison shows Ellis Lake, located in Marysville, Ca. The lake can be seen later in the film when a cop drives by the sign reading "Santa Marta - The Friendly City."

A view of Ellis Lake, in Marysville, Ca.

A present day view of Ellis Lake in Marysville, Ca.

The Lawless is an entertaining 'B' movie that has held up well over time. In addition to seeing real life film locations, another great thing about this movie is that Joseph Losey cast actual Latinos, rather than throwing on some dark make-up on white actors to play Latinos. I always grimace a bit when I see that done.

The Lawless is currently available for streaming on Netflix. I don't believe there has been any official studio release of The Lawless on DVD, but it can be found for sale online.

All present day images (c) 2011 Google; (c) 2011 Microsoft Coporation, (c) 2010 Pictometry International Corp (c) 2010 NAVTEQ.

Your thoughts?


Laura said...

I love this! You do such fantastic work. I love the intersection of California history with films, and the background behind filmmaking. You know, you might find there's a cool book to be written on the locations of "old" movies some day. Just a thought. :) Thanks for doing such interesting work on these posts.

I recorded THE LAWLESS from TCM a year or two ago. I'm a big Gail Russell fan so now I have to pull it out and watch it!

Best wishes,

Robby Cress said...

Thanks Laura. You know , I might eventually get around to writing a book. People have mentioned that I should, but I just need to find my focus. I've actually been collecting materials and doing research for a non-location related book topic (still film oriented though), so we will see what idea moves forward first. Thanks for the encouragement!

I forgot to mention that Gail Russell was in the film. I haven't seen too many of her films - any that I can recall.

Connie Moreno said...

Thanks for turning me on to a film I had never heard of.

Robby Cress said...


You're welcome. Enjoy the film!


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